WILD BOAR RE­PRO­DUCE QUICKLY, RE­LENT­LESSLY... THE RE­SULT OF THIS PRODI­GIOUS PRO­DUC­TIV­ITY IS THE PRAC­TI­CAL IM­POS­SI­BIL­ITY OF EVER ERAD­I­CAT­ING THEM

Canadian Wildlife - - LOCAL HERO -

Among the ma­jor con­cerns is the fact that wild pigs trans­mit dis­eases and par­a­sites to do­mes­tic hogs, other live­stock and hu­mans. While it is un­likely wild boar pose much risk to con­tam­i­nat­ing large-scale com­mer­cial hog op­er­a­tions with their closed-loop sup­ply chains, dis­ease trans­fer be­tween feral wild boar, live­stock, wildlife and hu­mans is a real con­cern. Canada’s wild boar carry sev­eral dis­eases risky to hu­man health that are trans­mit­ted through con­tam­i­nated veg­etable crops, eat­ing wild boar meat or di­rect con­tact. Th­ese in­clude trichinella, in­fluenza and hepati­tis E. Dis­ease threats to other live­stock in­clude pseu­dora­bies, swine bru­cel­losis and porcine re­pro­duc­tive and res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome virus, which are spread by con­tam­i­na­tion from bod­ily flu­ids. Wild boar shar­ing feed and crops make it likely that it will af­fect small herds.

Ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of ter­res­trial in­va­sion by new species, first a small pop­u­la­tion will es­tab­lish. And then nearby a few more. With early de­tec­tion, they’re easy to erad­i­cate. But as the num­ber of dif­fer­ent and in­de­pen­dent pop­u­la­tion cen­tres grows, the pos­si­bil­ity of erad­i­ca­tion de­creases. Even­tu­ally, the best hope is to limit the ef­fects of the in­vader. This is where Saskatchewan finds it­self: al­most past the point of no re­turn, erad­i­ca­tion will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. Tar­geted con­trol mea­sures will slow wild pop­u­la­tion growth, but since feral pigs re­pro­duce so pro­lif­i­cally, killing a few an­i­mals has no ap­pre­cia­ble ef­fect on the larger pop­u­la­tion.

Ef­fec­tive man­age­ment and con­trol starts with good in­for­ma­tion. Ruth Kost, a PHD stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan, is build­ing a base­line map of con­firmed boar oc­cur­rences to de­ter­mine their spread and to sup­port man­age­ment ef­forts. Wild boar observations, hunter kills and trail cam pho­tos are all use­ful data. “My re­search is look­ing at the dis­tri­bu­tion of wild boar across Canada. As it is on such a broad scale, com­mon wildlife mon­i­tor­ing tech­niques aren’t fea­si­ble. I am us­ing lo­cal and ex­pert knowl­edge to col­lect data,” Kost says.

“As far as I am aware, this is the only re­search on wild boar dis­tri­bu­tion in Canada and will pro­vide a base­line map of wild boar dis­tri­bu­tion for fu­ture re­search. This map will pro­vide in­sight into cur­rent wild boar lo­ca­tions, as well as cre­ate a base­line against which potential fu­ture range ex­pan­sion can be com­pared.”

To achieve even a mod­est pop­u­la­tion re­duc­tion of wild boar in Saskatchewan will re­quire a highly ag­gres­sive, co­or­di­nated and well-mon­i­tored ap­proach. In a pro­gram run by the Saskatchewan As­so­ci­a­tion of Ru­ral Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties un­til 2015, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment funded a sys­tem to dis­patch hired sharp­shoot­ers to prob­lem ar­eas. Since then, to re­duce in­surance pay­outs for dam­aged crops and live­stock loss, the Saskatchewan Crop In­surance Cor­po­ra­tion (SCIC) has been op­er­at­ing a feral wild boar con­trol pro­gram. Within the first few months of 2017, hunt teams killed 85 pigs. That num­ber is ex­pected to rise this fall by us­ing snares — a cost-ef­fec­tive way to catch more pigs.

The con­trol pro­gram is by ne­ces­sity a cum­ber­some process. Landown­ers re­port wild boar dam­age or sight­ings on their land to SCIC. Darby Warner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at SCIC, says that on av­er­age the phones ring five to 10 times per year with wild boar-re­lated calls. Crop in­surance ad­justers are trained to iden­tify pig signs and dam­age. Each call is in­ves­ti­gated, and if it’s iden­ti­fied as wild boar, one of three hunt teams is mo­bi­lized. First the team leader “ground truths” the site, look­ing for boar trails and nests. A boar’s unique tracks are eas­i­est to spot in the snow and mud. Re­con­nais­sance may also be con­ducted with air­planes. Once the team leader iden­ti­fies the num­ber of pigs in a sounder (group­ing), the team de­vises a plan to kill the en­tire sounder. Ac­cord­ing to Brook, killing any­thing less than 100 per cent of the group means that at­tempt was a to­tal fail­ure. Boar are in­tel­li­gent, so those that es­cape scat­ter and are now ed­u­cated that hu­mans equal trou­ble.

While the hunt teams are ef­fec­tive at re­mov­ing boar from an area, it is an ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing job. Teams must wait for in­com­ing re­ports, plan, mo­bi­lize and ex­e­cute their plans. Once a group of prob­lem pigs is elim­i­nated, the team will stand down un­til they are called out again. While the SCIC spear­heads the hunt teams, they work with the prov­ince’s Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment, says Warner. Wildlife spe­cial­ists and con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers give guid­ance on al­ter­na­tive con­trol mea­sures.

The con­trol pro­gram re­cently started try­ing other ways to re­duce the pop­u­la­tion. For in­stance, trap­pers have be­gun us­ing snares to cap­ture wild boar. Crea­tures of habit, wild boar de­velop path­ways from bed­ding to feed­ing ar­eas, us­ing the same trail un­til they move on to an­other

site — ideal for catch­ing them in steel ca­ble snares. Be­cause only one trap­per is re­quired to snare pigs, the cost is much lower than us­ing an erad­i­ca­tion team, and snares can be an ef­fec­tive way of cap­tur­ing shy and elu­sive pigs.

An­other tac­tic is us­ing a ster­il­ized wild boar to lo­cate other wild pigs in an area. A cap­tured boar is out­fit­ted with a Gps-track­ing col­lar, from which co­or­di­nates are trans­mit­ted to the hunt team. Once the col­lared pig gives up his new com­rades’ po­si­tion, the hunt team moves in, killing all the pigs, leav­ing only the col­lared one. Nick­named the “Ju­das pig” be­cause he be­trays his friends, the lonely col­lared boar leaves in search of more pigs. This tech­nique is show­ing real prom­ise and has been used with good suc­cess in ar­eas with siz­able pock­ets of wild hogs.

Live group traps have been used ef­fec­tively in the United States. The trick is to cap­ture all the boar in a sounder. If pigs es­cape from the live traps or are split from their group, they will be­come trap­shy and that much harder to cap­ture. The Saskatchewan hunt teams use video sur­veil­lance in con­junc­tion with live traps. By wait­ing for all the boar to en­ter the trap and then spring­ing the door re­motely, they have the best chance of cap­tur­ing all the boar in a group.

Poi­son­ing too has been used, though it is con­tro­ver­sial be­cause of the many con­cerns about in­ad­ver­tently poi­son­ing wildlife. (Iron­i­cally, sodium ni­trite, the cur­ing agent for ba­con and ham, is used as an ef­fec­tive poison in some ar­eas.)

An ob­vi­ous re­sponse to a grow­ing prob­lem would seem to be en­gag­ing the prov­ince’s large com­mu­nity of active recre­ational hun­ters in the erad­i­ca­tion process. Hun­ters are in­ter­ested both be­cause of the chal­lenge the wily hogs present and be­cause of the quan­tity and qual­ity of pork that re­sult. Prior to June 2016, wild boar were clas­si­fied as “dan­ger­ous stray” in Saskatchewan mean­ing any potential hun­ters were re­quired to ob­tain per­mis­sion from landown­ers and from ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to shoot wild boar. Be­cause, as En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Herb Cox said, “free-rang­ing or feral wild boar have the potential to be­come a se­ri­ous pro­vin­cial prob­lem,” amend­ments were made to both the pro­vin­cial Wildlife Act and the Stray An­i­mals Act to al­low Saskatchewan hun­ters to hunt wild boar with­out a li­cence. Some hun­ters see this as an op­por­tu­nity to “fill the freezer.”

The con­cern among ex­perts is that hunt­ing ul­ti­mately does noth­ing to con­trol the prob­lem. In re­al­ity, ev­i­dence sug­gests un­co­or­di­nated hunt­ing can make it more dif­fi­cult to erad­i­cate wild boar: wild pigs are in­tel­li­gent an­i­mals that re­spond to hunt­ing at­tempts by avoid­ing hu­mans. As Ryan Brook has found in his stud­ies, “shoot­ing in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals can ac­tu­ally make the prob­lem worse by break­ing up sounder groups and spread­ing feral pigs around to new ar­eas.”

The prov­ince is tak­ing steps to en­force stricter fenc­ing re­quire­ments for farmed wild boar. Re­duc­ing the num­ber of wild boar that es­cape is a ma­jor step to­ward pre­vent­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of new pop­u­la­tions. This does noth­ing to ad­dress de­lib­er­ate re­lease of wild boar by frus­trated farm­ers. Lorne Scott, a prom­i­nent wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ist and for­merly the pro­vin­cial min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment and re­source man­age­ment, says, “The best op­tion to elim­i­nate more cap­tive an­i­mals be­ing re­leased into the wild is for the Prov­ince of Saskatchewan to shut down the in­dus­try… buy­ing out the hand­ful of re­main­ing wild boar farms at fair mar­ket value.” Scott was pres­i­dent and later ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation when wild game farm­ing (elk, deer, boar) was be­ing pro­posed for agri­cul­tural di­ver­sity, some­thing the federation ve­he­mently op­posed.

In the mean­time, the un­canny abil­ity of wild boar to breed and mul­ti­ply will con­tinue to wreak havoc in Saskatchewan’s ecosys­tems while their wrath spreads to neigh­bour­ing prov­inces. Al­though the way for­ward to erad­i­ca­tion is not clear, for the sake of slow­ing the growth of the prob­lem, vig­i­lance is crit­i­cal, and im­me­di­ate ac­tion needed in re­sponse to feral wild boar as they are de­tected. In the mean­time, th­ese in­vaders will con­tinue to lurk in the shad­ows.a

To learn more, visit Wild­hog­watch on Face­book. It is op­er­ated by the Wildlife Ecol­ogy and Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment Lab at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan.

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